In a dream, the fisherman Peter Grimes relives the recent inquest held into the death of his young apprentice. The coroner has cast an open verdict, leaving the town speculating and gossiping. Ellen Orford, the school mistress, arrives and lulls Peter into a calmer sleep. When Grimes returns from fishing, only the retired sea captain, Balstrode, and Ned Keene, the local ‘chemist’, are willing to help bring in his boat. Keene tells Grimes that he has arranged for a new apprentice to come and work for him. Hobson – the carter – only agrees to collect the boy when Ellen offers to accompany him on the journey. Balstrode suggests to Grimes that he should leave the town or marry Ellen and change his solitary ways. Grimes rejects his advice, declaring ‘I am native, rooted here,’ and that he will only marry Ellen when he has enough money to earn the respect of the Borough. With the storm raging outside, the townsfolk are sheltering in the local pub. Mrs Sedley, a widow addicted to laudanum, arrives to wait for Ned Keene, her supplier. The ‘nieces’ of the landlady, Auntie, are teasing the inebriated Methodist fisherman Bob Boles, when Ned Keene arrives with the news that part of the cliff has collapsed by Grimes’s hut. Grimes bursts in, distracted and disoriented. When a fight threatens to break out between him and Boles, Balstrode calls for a song to calm the atmosphere. The song is interrupted by the arrival of Hobson, Ellen and the new apprentice. Instead of allowing the boy to rest, Grimes carries him out into the night. It is Sunday and Ellen has decided not to go to church, but to question the silent apprentice about his life. She notices that his clothing is torn and that he has a bruise on his neck. Grimes arrives and orders the boy to go fishing. Ellen reminds him that the apprentice is entitled to a day of rest. He loses his temper, pushing Ellen to the ground and running off with the boy. When the locals emerge from church, Bob Boles stirs the Borough into action against Grimes. The townsmen resolve to set out for his hut to get to the truth, leaving Ellen, Auntie and the two Nieces to reflect on their role and relationship to the men in the Borough. Grimes and the apprentice prepare for the fishing trip. When he hears the men from the Borough approaching, he panics and hurries the boy down the steep ladder to the beach. With the knock on the door he hears the boy scream, and fearing an accident, scrambles quickly after him. Reverend Adams, Mayor Swallow, Keene and Balstrode enter the hut and are surprised by its orderly state, but neither Grimes nor the boy are there. Grimes finds the dead apprentice at the base of the cliff. The annual Borough dance is in full swing. Mrs Sedley tries to convince Ned Keene that Grimes has killed his apprentice. Balstrode arrives with Ellen, who has discovered the boy’s jumper on the tide line. Balstrode tells Ellen that he has seen Grimes’s boat, and they resolve to find him before the mob do. Mrs Sedley, who has overheard their conversation, incites the Borough to action and the manhunt for Grimes begins. Grimes is alone, seized by visions and tortured by the death of the two boys. In the distance is the sound of the mob calling his name. Ellen and Balstrode find him, but in his distressed state, he does not fully recognise them. Balstrode tells him to sail his boat out into deep water and sink it. Dawn breaks and Swallow reports that a boat is sinking out at sea. The Borough turns its back and goes about its business – as it always has, and always will.